This weekend, All Elite Wrestling launches its first ever pay per view Double or Nothing. With a prime time TV deal inked with TNT in America and ITV in the UK, even the doubters have to admit AEW is poised to be a game changer in the global wrestling scene. However despite the billionaire backing and unprecedented TV deals the whole proposition remains a huge gamble.
So much of its potential success relies on the four wrestlers who have also been named Executive Vice Presidents of the company, Cody (nee Rhodes), Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks, Matt & Nick Jackson, the men who dreamt up AEW and combined with the Kahn family to make it a reality.
However they have a massive mountain to climb, so heading into Double of Nothing this Sunday here are where they shine but here are the questions they need to answer.
In May 2016 Cody Rhodes made a bet on himself. Years before he would go all in and then double or nothing on himself and a group of likeminded wrestlers he made a bet that he could be more than the ‘part’ the WWE management had consigned him to. He bet he could break the glass ceiling the WWE had placed above him and his career.
He wasn’t the first wrestler to go for it, far from it, pro wrestling’s recent history is littered with WWE castoffs striking out on their own. Some have quickly fallen into obscurity, some have managed to revitalise their career enough that they catch their former employers eye but none have reached the heights of Rhodes.
Three years on from that bet, after travelling the world and having the greatest year of his career creatively and in the ring in 2018, the son of the son of a plumber is at the very tip of the spear of All Elite Wrestling. Not only is he being given the role as the public face of the company but he is set to become the heart of the budding promotions main event scene, the center that the AEW world revolves around.
AEW has a lot of exciting prospects up and down the card from their extremely athletic tag team division headed by The Young Bucks, to their blockbuster women’s division, to main event scene of Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho and whoever else might show up at Double or Nothing. However what Cody represents is the emotional heart of the show. Just as he did at All In where he wrestled Nick Aldis for his Father’s old NWA title or at the start of 2018 during the excellent ‘Bullet Club is fine’ storyline, Cody will be the story teller and character that that rest of the roster can bump off.
At Double or Nothing his blood feud with his brother is the emotional center of the event. It is an old-school story of two brothers and the unspoken resentment that can build up in family. These are two men that are bound together by blood but need to beat each other until their differences are settled. More long term it seems like Cody is already at odds with AEW’s marquee signing Chris Jericho.
However the questions remain, how can Cody balance the emotion and story that comes with his in ring role and also the out of ring responsibilities that being the steady public face of this company bring?
Secondly, this is a promotion that is built on the The Elite’s promise to ‘change the world’ but how can a man so steeped in the tradition of pro wrestling in America be the tip of the spear for the company that wants to revolutionise it all?
In the documentary Omegaman: The Kenny Omega Story, Kenny Omega’s Double of Nothing opponent Chris Jericho said, “If Elvis was alive today and was a wrestler, he might be Kenny Omega.” That it a big claims, a claim that the man nicknamed the ‘Best Bout Machine’ has certainly done everything he can to justify.
More than anyone else in the world over the last three years, Kenny Omega has drawn fans to Japanese wrestling. A Canadian who moved to Japan in the late 00s and eventually became a Japanese citizen, through the force of his athleticism and drive to push his vision for wrestling as far as it could go, Omega drew wrestling fans who had previously only watched American wrestling across the pacific to Japan. His matches meshed the hard hitting and uber-athletic Japanese style with some more western cinematic flourishes and resulted in record profits and viewing numbers for his promotion New Japan Pro Wrestling.
He has now been hand picked to be ‘the ace’ of AEW, will likely be the first champion of the company and his in ring style will undoubtedly become the signature main event style for AEW.
However, while the ‘Elvis’ or pro wrestling has indeed brought western eyes to eastern wrestling, he has never done these things in America on prime time TV. There is a big difference between creating interest in a few big shows a year where it is a guarantee that the main event wrestlers will leave everything on the canvas and building stories, characters and matches in a week to week show. Some of the smaller American NJPW shows he appeared on did not perform as well as the promotion had hoped, leaving NJPW with empty seats despite pushing Omega as their Western Ace.
Furthermore Omega’s style outside the ring can be charitably described as eccentric but perhaps more realistically as odd. How this translates in a relatable way to prime time TV is a legitimate question to ask. While you could say he can simply let his matches do the talking, as the top guy in the company he needs to be able to create a genuine emotional connection with the fans beyond the simple admiration for his athletic feats.
Finally, Omega’s style of wrestling places incredible strain on the body. He spent a large amount of time on the sideline last year even while champion and as the face of AEW he will need to pace himself so he doesn’t wind up spending even more time icing his wounds.
Matt & Nick Jackson, The Young Bucks
The Jackson brothers are the masterminds behind the Young Bucks brand. It is a brand that the pair built up from scratch over many years, outside any of the major promotional machines in the wrestling world.
What these two have done with merchandise and the cult of personality they have driven has created a way for indy wrestlers to not just survive but thrive economically. Wrestlers like Joey Ryan and Joey Janella are able to make a full time living outside of any mainstream wrestling organisations because of the road the Young Bucks and their branding machine have paved.
The buzz their cheeky shtick has created even got the WWE’s attention, with Vince sending them cease and desist letters for their usage of the ‘Too Sweet’ gesture the WWE has copyrighted. It was a move the Young Bucks ingeniously turned into one of their most successful t-shirts ever and Cease & Desist is even now a custom song on their Youtube show.
In the ring too they have perhaps embodied the indy ‘more is more’ sensibility as much as any set of wrestlers this decade. The Young Bucks don’t just have a Superkick each, they have a Superkick Party, they don’t just do a Tombstone Piledriver for their finisher, they do a Springboard 450 Splash off the ropes into a Tombstone Piledriver called the Meltzer Driver for their finisher. That is not to sell them short, they have won genuine acclaim for their more serious matches and the stories they have created through their Youtube series Being The Elite but it is undeniable that their style is not without its detractors.
However given that so much of their charm relies on parody of wrestling tropes and a myriad of inside jokes in front of die hard fans who are equally in on the bits, it remains to be seen how will their style translate to a serious sports show. How will their style be accepted by an audience that not only hasn’t seen them before but is not overly familiar with what they are sending up?
And the big question for all all the EVPs is how do they remain neutral when booking the very shows they will be starring in and drawing paychecks from? The success of the promotion could rely on them answering the question, how does AEW curtail the creativity of these men when their individual vision works to the detriment of the company as a whole? The history of wrestling promotions is littered with wrestlers who booked themselves at the expense of all others.
The wrestling world right now needs these four men to fire. I am not asking these question because I want AEW to fail, I am not asking these question because I want to highlight the EVPs flaws, I am asking these questions because I want AEW to succeed. These men are creative dynamos who live, breathe and love pro wrestling. I have seen them tell stories that made me shout for joy and stories that made me cry. I have seen all four struggle, fight and triumph and I want to see many more triumphs staring Sunday. And while they may have thousands of wrestling fans on their side, they have hundreds of thousands more that they need to win over.
That’s all from me today LOP. How are you feeling heading into Double of Nothing? Let me know in the comments below, on Twitter @Sir_Samuel or you can even write about it yourself on the LOP Columns Forum. It is where every columnist on this site started and will make you both a better writer and a more engaged wrestling fan.